Last night’s Pinback performance at Lee’s Palace felt as though we were wafting through a hazy dream. The hollow wails of the vocals, the fits and starts of the guitars and the thrumming bass lines coupled with ethereal grainy images of constellations and a gravity-less earth – it’s no wonder the San Diegans have secured a cultish following of hippie punks south of the border.
This tour honours the band’s first album in five years, Information Retrieved, and only included two stops in Canada. Pulling heavily from the new record, multi-instrumentalists Rob Crow (who was dressed as a bearded Angus Young) and Armistead Burwell Smith IV had the walls of Lee’s Palace pulsating with reverb and droning guitar squalls. Though both have taken the time off to pursue independent side projects, their chemistry on stage as they jumped from guitar to bass to keys was effortless, and bordered on telepathic. Crow and Smith were both methodical and mathematical, dissecting rhythms meticulously with their fingers.
They might have been on the same wavelength with each other, but there was definitely a coldness in the air as the band went from track to track without speaking a single word. One guy in the crowd even yelled out, “Say something, Rob!” but Crow soldiered on to the next number as though he hadn’t heard. In my opinion, lack of verbosity worked to their credit. Information Retrieved is cavernous, empty, and expansive, so why unnecessarily clutter it?
Also, the guys made up for it with ethereal (and sometimes pretty messed up) screen projections. Grainy images splayed on to the screen ranged from shots of outer space, a dude feeding a squirrel, a beached shipwreck and the earth without gravity (spoiler: it blows up). Combined with the strangely existential quality of their sound, the experience was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Think of it as an experiment to find the allure of the mundane, or an American Beautyplastic-bag-floating-in-the-wind scenario.
So, it’s not surprising that Pinback’s brand of electro indie rock is incomparable. The consensus seems to liken them to Linkin Park, but perhaps without the intensity of Chester Bennington. Tracks such as “Sherman” and “Proceed to Memory” were definite highlights, unifying the audience who nodded in unison and latched on to every defined note.
If there was a downfall, it was certainly the uninterrupted string of songs. For the heaviness of Pinback’s penetrating sound to adequately seep in, it would have been much better received to give us a break by way of conversation. The songs off of the new record might not be breaking any barriers, and at times, can even come off a bit monotonous — which can be a bit exhausting for those of us in the crowd. We would have much rather seen them push it to full-fledged rock territory and just let go.
Regardless of whether you were able to make it out to the gig or whether you’re pumping the record out through headphones, it’s clear that Pinback is still going strong and have an unparalleled ability to pull out unexpected and misunderstood beauty with scientifically-composed sounds.
Sabrina Nanji is a Toronto-based writer devoted to the underground music beat. She has also dabbled in reporting on the city’s street style and local politics, but her true expertise (though she’s reluctant to admit it) lies in the world of Star Wars trivia nights. Follow her on Twitter here.